E-Book Pricing

Over on Amazon’s forums, and elsewhere, authors/would-be authors endlessly debate the pricing strategies of e-books. Books for the Kindle are the main subject of discussion, especially on Amazon, and people can broadly speaking be divided up into three rough groups:

The $0.99 crowd;

The $2.99 crowd;

The $5.99-and-over crowd.

There’s some degree of logic behind all of these…

$0.99 is the lowest price Amazon will allow you to set for a Kindle publication (other than “free”) so that’s the price of choice for authors who want to make money and think that readers are drawn to inexpensive books. There’s anecdotal evidence that this is true, but I’m not convinced it’s entirely credible. (I’m not suggesting authors are telling lies, but that there are other factors at work – if you lower the price of a book to $0.99 and then heavily publicize this fact and sell a bunch of copies, what gets the credit – the price, or your promotional efforts?)

$2.99 is the lowest price Amazon will allow you to set for a Kindle publication and earn 70% royalties, which is very sexy and exciting-sounding to a lot of people. (Hence the widespread popularity of this price for independent e-books.) Proponents of this price point out that you earn a hefty amount per sale – $1.40! – while the reader pays less than they would for a dead-tree book, so everybody wins.

It’s hard to argue with that, to be honest, and the Kindle is important enough, market-wise, that these circumstances may actually make $2.99 the de-facto standard price for e-books, at least from independent authors.

Then there are a lot of people – including a lot of “real” publishers – who price e-books north of five bucks. If the book in question is “worth” $6 or $8 or $10 in paperback, they argue – somewhat convincingly – why should the e-book be cheaper? Lower costs, et cetera are offset, they argue, by the instant gratification aspect. Wait a day? Drive to a bookstore? Nope, buy and download and read, in a minute or two, without ever getting dressed or getting out of your chair.

Problem is, the people advocating this kind of pricing are authors and publishers, who have a certain vested financial interest in selling their products as dearly as possible.

This leads me to wonder – purely from a reader’s perspective, what makes the most sense? I know that on a purely emotional level cheaper = better, but – stripping away the unabashed avarice of authors and publishers – is there an intellectual justification for e-books priced more than a couple of bucks?

I can’t really think of any good ones. Cheap e-books harm the market for physical books? Cheap e-books undermine the worth of a well-written book? Cheap e-books ripoff people who still enjoy physical books, by forcing them to “pay extra” for what is essentially the exact same thing? None of these are particularly compelling, to me.

There’s another issue at play, which is the whole indy/self publisher versus real company thing. See, I’m as cynical as the next guy, but I can’t help but notice that a lot of independent/self-published e-books are… kinda crap, to be honest. I’m not generally one to advocate “you get what you pay for” as an axiom, but you can be somewhat confident that a $10 e-book from Bantam Books, to take one example, is probably moderately well written and formatted, free from excessive typos and formatting problems, and so on. The e-book isn’t $10 because it’s free of issues, but because it was actually, y’know, edited and stuff. That $0.99 e-book from some college student somewhere? It’s much more likely to have hideous technical deficiencies, just not because it’s a buck, obviously.

I can’t be the only person to have observed this, or been bothered by it.

Are poor-quality, inexpensive e-books tainting the whole field of sub-$3 publications? Are cheap e-books having a negative effect on people’s perceptions of worth, vis-a-vis written works? Do prices have an impact on the perceived quality of works after people have read them?

Inquiring minds want to know, and all that jazz.

Published in: Geekiness, General | on February 24th, 2011| No Comments »

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